I recently sat down with Stony Brook University alumni Josh Joseph ’22 and Sara Ruberg ’22, who worked on the award-winning podcast, Higher Ground with J.D. Allen ’16, a professor in the School of Communication and Journalism. Read on to learn more about their experiences on campus and more.
Viyang: How did you start working with J.D. Allen on Higher Ground?
Joseph: I had been working at the Stony Brook Press, the student magazine on campus, since my freshman year. J.D. had seen all of my graphics work in the magazine by the time I became executive editor in my junior year. He said, ‘Let’s meet’ and proposed his idea. He had this climate change podcast in the works and gave me the rundown. From there, I started workshopping ideas, and he liked the direction that I was going in.
Ruberg: Someone told me that J.D. was working on a podcast about climate adaptation on Long Island, and I was super into climate and science. I had done a bunch of classwork on climate adaptation on Long Island, but it was never published anywhere because it was just classwork. When I first heard about the podcast, I immediately emailed Carrie and J.D. and said, “Hi, I heard you were doing this. Can I be a part of it? How can I get involved?” I was in the middle of my spring semester, and it was not normal to pick up an internship in March. They loved that I really wanted to do it, and they were so good about working with me and figuring out how I could work with them. They let me join the podcast in the middle of my spring semester and continue working on it throughout the summer. I’m so happy that they still let me be part of the podcast, even though it was at the worst possible time.
Viyang: What was your role on the podcast?
Joseph: I had a separate role in the podcast. When I started working, the podcast was finished or close to finishing, and I added supplemental elements. I had to build on the amazing work they had already done with the episodes, pairing them with a lot of original photography that I got to use in graphics. We designed the graphics to resemble a heat map, which was inspired by climate change maps.
Ruberg: I focused mostly on research and pre-interviewing during my spring semester. And then, when it came to going out and recording, I would go on what we called ‘field trips’ to chat with people ‘in the field.’ I would help record, come up with questions, and figure out exactly where we needed to go. I was on a few field trip specials – one in the Hamptons and one in Mastic Beach.
Viyang: Outside of Higher Ground, what else do you do?
Joseph: As a freelance graphic designer, I work with J.D. and WSHU on many different projects. I also occasionally work on explanatory stories about things like elections or public health. I’m working on another podcast about the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut. And, of course, I worked on season two of Higher Ground, which was exciting because it had a different theme. It went from Long Island to Connecticut, focusing on student scientists.
Ruberg: After Higher Ground’s first season, I worked for NBC News at the network desk, where I did a lot of breaking news reporting. And then, this past summer, I worked at the Wall Street Journal’s London Bureau, where I did a lot of business and corporate reporting in London. Now I’m back at NBC as a full-time news associate.
Viyang: Do you think you would be where you are right now if it weren’t for your experiences at Stony Brook University?
Joseph: Definitely no. A whole range of great experiences, from professors in my classes to the magazine, pretty much shaped my entire career path. It’s affected my daily thoughts and how I carry myself professionally.
Ruberg: Looking back on it now, being part of The Statesman student newspaper was the biggest thing that impacted me in college. I was a multimedia editor there for two and a half years before becoming editor-in-chief my senior year. The Statesman taught me a lot about what it takes to be a journalist in the real world.
Viyang: What are some of your future goals and plans?
Joseph: I’m looking for jobs in graphic design or magazine design. I like how it’s situated between the journalism side and the graphic side.
Ruberg: It’s difficult to say because I’m at a point where I’m taking every opportunity I can to learn and do any type of journalism I can get my hands on. When it comes to journalism, I’m just trying to be a very well-rounded person. I’m trying to master all skills and trades in order to have this knowledge and be invaluable in the newsroom. My goal one day would be to run a newsroom, but that’s later in the future.
— Viyang Hao ‘26
*This post has been edited for clarity